It’s no secret pupil numbers are rising. By 2023, secondary mainstream schools will need to have found the space for an additional 376,000 young people. If current prevalence is any indication, we can expect at least 45,300 of these extra pupils to have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). A further 6,800 will have needs complex enough to qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
The geographic distribution of these young people will, of course, be uneven. But if it were even, it would mean each existing secondary mainstream school in England would need to accommodate 15 additional pupils with SEND, two of whom would have an EHCP. The populations of special schools and alternative provisions (AP)are also set to boom, by 15% and 19% respectively. That’s a further 13,000 or so young people with SEND.
If you think the solution to the increase is, in part or in whole, to up the capacity of our non-mainstream settings, consider this. To keep pace with the projected demand requires the government to open 30 new specialist provisions each year, for the next five years. This is a three-fold improvement on the six special schools and four APs that it has averaged each year since 2012/13.
At the start of the current academic year, according to its own data, the DfE was on course to open just half of the 150 schools needed by 2023. So, while last week’s news from free school champions, the New Schools Network, announcing that a record 34 special free schools are due to open in 2020/21 is welcome, there’s no indication yet of whether this will be sustained.
Given the uncertainty, you’d think now would be a good time to hedge our bets and increase mainstream schools’ capacity to accommodate pupils who might otherwise attend a special school or AP. However, the opposite is happening. Between January 2017 and January 2018, there was an 11% reduction in the number of secondary schools with a base for pupils with additional needs: 151 SEND units and resourced provision – gone.
It’s not just the supply and demand problem that presents a challenge to the education of some of our most disadvantaged learners. There’s also the not-so-niche enterprise of off-rolling – a practice to which pupils with SEND are particularly vulnerable – and something the education secretary, Damian Hinds, calls ‘pre-emptive exclusion’: ‘where parents looking at secondary schools are actively or in some way subtly discouraged from applying to a particular school for their child’. Both practices are best understood as responses to the threats posed by the effects of ‘hyper-accountability’, but the effect is that schools are disincentivised to act more inclusively.
A perfect storm is brewing. So, where do we go from here?
This timely question is addressed in a new collection of writing called Including Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Learning and Life. The book captures and continues a lively discussion held at UCL IOE to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People – or the Warnock Enquiry, as it is more memorably known.
The book brings together adiverse range of voices, perspectives and expertise to the question its subtitle: How far have we come since the Warnock Enquiry – and where do we go next? While we’re presented with an array of destinations, the contributors agree that the journey is reliant on two things.
Not surprisingly, one is investment. As Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores Academy in Essex, writes, funding is ‘a killer for inclusion’. But Vic and others identify something else as having at least as much transformative potential for improving the experiences and outcomes for those with SEND. As one contributor, Sally Phillips, (whose son, Olly, has Down’s syndrome) puts it: “I would choose attitude over funding any day”.
In symmetry with the publication it commemorates, ‘Including Children and Young People…’arrives at the same conclusion as the Warnock Report did some 40 years previous. The Report’s final paragraph reads: “In conclusion, we must emphasise that organisational changes and additional resources will not be sufficient in themselves to achieve our aims. They must be accompanied by changes in attitudes”
This observation, now as then, is highly relevant to the supply and demand challenge. Given the forecasts about the durability of the nation’s finances (because of you know what), coupled with the aftershocks of austerity, all roads point to attitudinal change being a crucial part of our response to building more inclusively-minded schools. And more inclusively-minded schools we certainly need, as the capacity in our specialist schools is so limited.
As editor of the book, my own observation is that the Warnock Report has aged remarkably well. It bears revisiting, because in it lie principles and ideas that can inform the development of inclusive approaches. More than 40 years on, this landmark that changed the discourse of SEND contains practical proposals still worth implementing.
Including Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Learning and Life: How far have we come since the Warnock Enquiry – and where do we go next? is edited by Rob Webster and is published by Routledge. It features contributions from UCL IOE’s Ruth Cigman, the IOE’s first chair in special education, Klaus Wedell, and Global Teacher Prize winner and IOE alumna, Andria Zafirakou.
80% of the AP population have SEND